Each spring, environmental organizations across the Door County peninsula come together to celebrate the earth and promote environmental stewardship through events, presentations and week-long festivals, and every spring, Door County Medical Center sponsors many of those events in acknowledgment of the fact that environmental health has a direct impact on human health.
The direct costs to human health and the economy from an unhealthy environment
Globally, the number of deaths linked directly to environmental causes averages 23% of total deaths—or 12.6 million—every year (based on 2012 numbers). According to a 2016 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), “the diseases with the main environmental contribution are cardiovascular diseases, followed by diarrheal diseases, respiratory infections and cancers.”
Our environment is one of the primary routes for human exposure to airborne, waterborne and chemical pollution. According to the 2019 Global Burden of Disease Study, air pollution alone results in 6.7 million premature deaths, worldwide, each year. In the United States, that number comes to around 107,000 premature deaths and costs the nation roughly $885 billion annually.
Waterborne pollution, often resulting from poor sanitation or chemical contamination, results in millions of Americans becoming sick each year, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Their estimate—that roughly 7.2 million Americans suffer from waterborne diseases each year—finds around 600,000 people per year requiring an emergency room visit as a result of waterborne pollution, and 118,000 required hospitalization. The cost in human lives and dollars averaged 6,600 and $3.3 billion, respectively.
Exposure to chemical pollution is also a serious issue. People are routinely exposed to a vast array of chemicals by way of polluted air and water, and from consumer products (often in the form of plastics) and diet. Worldwide, the WHO estimates that 2 million people died in 2019 as a result of exposure to hazardous chemicals. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently found that globally, “[The economic] costs associated with environmental chemical exposures,” to be roughly $7.5 trillion per year.
The impacts of climate change also pose enormous and immediate threats to human and economic health, coming in the form of heat waves and cold snaps, flooding and drought, inconsistent seasonal weather patterns and shifts in the patterns of infectious diseases and allergens. Recently, as reported by NPR, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), “predicted climate change could reduce the country's Gross Domestic Product, or economic output, by as much as 10% by the end of this century. That translates into an annual revenue loss to the federal budget of 7.1%, or about $2 trillion in today's dollars.”
The aforementioned 2016 WHO report finds diseases that can be directly attributed to air pollution, chemical contaminants and waterborne pathogens include, but are not limited to:
Upper respiratory infections: More than 500,000 deaths occur worldwide, each year, from respiratory infections that are attributable to air pollution and unvented indoor cookstoves.
Heart disease: “Exposure to ambient air pollution can reduce life expectancy up to several years and was responsible for approximately 24% of the global burden of ischemic heart disease in 2012,” the WHO reports.
Cancer: A large variety of cancers are also linked to air pollution—specifically, airborne and chemical pollutants. The WHO study found, “more than 20 environmental and occupational agents are proven lung carcinogens in humans.” Additionally, lymphomas, multiple myelomas and leukemia, which are linked to chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde, and numerous pesticides and herbicides, were responsible for an additional 300,000 deaths worldwide in 2012.
Diarrheal diseases: One of the main contributors to global child mortality are diseases like rotavirus, cholera and typhoid. These diseases cause roughly 20% of all deaths in children under five years of age. A significant proportion of diarrheal diseases are caused by fecal-oral pathogens—that is, polluted drinking and bathing water.
Additional diseases that are have environmental causes include: chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and asthma (as a result of air pollution), rheumatoid arthritis, down syndrome and other congenital abnormalities (as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke and chemicals like pesticides), Mental, behavioral disorders (like anxiety and depression), neurological disorders (like parkinson’s, which is linked to pesticide exposure), and chronic kidney disease (as a result of lead exposure).
The health benefits of enjoying a healthy environment
However, the news is not all doom and gloom! When we take care of our natural resources, those resources in turn take care of us. Trees trap carbon and filter pollution from the air, and grasslands store massive amounts of carbon in their roots. Forests, grasslands and wetlands that border rivers, streams and lakes filter pollution and contaminants from the water.
Additionally, numerous studies show that just spending time in nature can have a positive effect on human health. For example, a recent study performed by the University of Exeter, and reported on by Yale Environment 360, found, “[P]eople who spent two hours a week in green spaces—local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits—were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t.
Of the more than 1,000 studies which currently look into the health benefits of experiencing the natural world, many found that time in nature:
Reduces stress: Spending time outdoors lowers the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, and lowers blood pressure—both important for reducing the development of cardiovascular disease.
Improves cardiovascular health: Along with a reduction in stress and lower blood pressure, more time spent outside correlates to more time spent being physically active. Even just looking at pictures of trees, and plants has been shown to lower stress, blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension.
Enhances immune function: Throughout the course of our lives, our immune system is built through interactions with microorganisms that we encounter in different environments. It has been found that exposure to “[N]atural environments might be able to positively influence immunoregulatory pathways,” leading to stronger “immunological defense mechanisms.”
Improve cognitive and mental health: According to the American Psychological Association, “[A] stroll through a city park [or] a day spent hiking in the wilderness…has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.” It can even increase self-esteem and lessen the effects of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
In other words, more green spaces equals better overall health for the community!
DCMC supports environmental initiatives throughout Door County
An unhealthy environment could be viewed as a medical problem—one that affects everyone on the planet. Conversely, because exposure to a healthy environment so profoundly and positively affects the physical and mental health of communities across the globe, environmental stewardship could also be viewed as a form of preventative medicine.
With those perspectives in mind, DCMC has been working closely with numerous environmental organizations across the peninsula to help conserve the County’s natural resources for future generations and provide the residents of Door County with increased access to green space.
Upcoming local environmental events that DCMC will be sponsoring in 2022 include:
The Ridges Sanctuary, Festival of Nature: Coordinated by The Ridges, the 2022 Festival of Nature is a celebration of the unique biodiversity and natural beauty we strive to protect. In collaboration with Door County’s conservation organizations and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, The Festival of Nature runs from May 27th through the 30th and includes numerous field trips, classes and activities throughout Door County.
Every Day is Earth Day Festival: DCMC is proud to support this festival, which runs from April 21st - 24th, 2022, and comprises an environmentally focused weekend of resource exchange, guest speakers, demonstrations, films, and activities for people of all ages. Events will be held at Northern Sky Theater, the Kress Pavilion and Crossroads at Big Creek.
Door County Big Plant: Earth Day is Friday, April 22. This year the Climate Change Coalition of Door County is celebrating Earth Day by planting over 6,000 trees in Door County. Participate in the Big Plant by volunteering at a public tree planting event or plant trees on your property.
Crossroads at Big Creek, a Dr. Joel Charles presentation: On Friday, July 22, DCMC will be sponsoring the event “Easy Medicine: How Health Professionals and Systems Can Make Their Patients and Communities Healthier While Fighting Climate Change.” At this event, Dr. Charles, chair of the Wisconsin Health Professionals for Climate Action, will discuss the role of doctors, hospitals and other health professionals in protecting patients from climate change’s damaging and even deadly health effects.
Local environmental organizations that Door County Medical Center regularly supports and collaborates with, include:
Climate Change Coalition of Door County: This is a volunteer driven, non-partisan organization focused on educating the public on the science surrounding the climate crisis while promoting mitigation strategies and adaptation to the effects of climate change.
Crossroads at Big Creek: Is a beautiful 200-acre preserve which brings together the young and old, experts and learners, researchers and policy makers. It serves as a crossroads between the past and the future, a place where residents and visitors of Door County come together to improve their quality of life.
The Ridges Sanctuary: This is Wisconsin’s first land trust, and for the past 80 years, the Ridges has expanded to ensure the protection of the most biologically diverse ecosystem in Wisconsin.
Door County Land Trust: Since 1986, this organization has worked to preserve, maintain and enhance lands that contribute significantly to the scenic beauty, open space, and ecological integrity of Door County. In that time, the Door County Land Trust has worked with landowners to protect more than 8,800 acres across the peninsula.
The different elements that influence the overall health of our bodies are numerous and exist not just within us, but outside of us too. Our environment plays an important role in our health and wellbeing—when it is healthy so are we. Door County Medical Center understands this and works hard, through our partnerships and collaborations with environmental organizations across the peninsula to be a responsible steward of both the physical health of the Door County community and the health of that community’s land.